If your Electric, Water, Telecom or Gas Utility is considering incorporating a self-service portal into your strategy, or you’re considering replacing your system with one that’s more up-to-date, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with self-service web portals and how they work.
On a fundamental level, self-service portals offer two main advantages to organizations. First, they offer a significant improvement to customer experience and boost customer satisfaction. Second, they reduce demands on customer service staff, leading to savings. Consumers expect more and more from self-service portals, so it’s important to make sure you’re providing the right kind of experience for your customers.
That’s where we come in. This blog series is a comprehensive guide to the world of self-service portals. When you’re done reading this, you’ll have all the information you need to make an informed decision about the right self-service choices for your organization.
Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 3
Part 2 - Where Self-Service Portals Are Now
In the last few decades, self-service portals have become indispensable in nearly every industry and public-facing organization. Anywhere that people need to interact with businesses, utilities, or government services, self-service portals have sprung up to increase customer engagement and save money. Here are just a few examples of how various organizations are using self-service portals.
Governments around the world have embraced self-service portals. In the United States, the Caribbean and in Canada, government agencies are increasingly offering online self-service options for many of their most in-demand services, such as paying municipal electric, water, telecom and gas utility bills, renewing driver’s licenses, applying for health insurance, paying parking tickets, and filing taxes. The days of spending hours in line at the DMV waiting to renew your license may soon be history.
But governments don’t only provide services—they are also using self-service portals to provide information. Citizens can use government websites to find legal and tax information and government forms they need to fill out. Rather than waiting on hold with a government office or calling up an accountant or lawyer, people can get the information they need with the click of a mouse-button and then get on with their busy days.
The process may have started with ATMs, but online banking has almost entirely replaced the need for bank tellers. It’s now rare to find a bank that doesn’t offer a full suite of banking services through their website, from checking balances, to paying bills, to transferring money. Many banking self-service portals utilize smart forms that allow customers to apply for and open new bank accounts, apply for loans, and create budgets.
Self-service is such a natural fit for the banking industry that some banks now are choosing not to operate physical branches and operate entirely online. When more and more banking is happening through self-service portals, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pay to maintain and staff unnecessary branches.
Self-service options have disrupted a large number of specialized service industries. Consumers can now go online to create a will or a lease, trade stocks, or make travel plans—all tasks that once required the help of trained professionals.
30 years ago, someone who wanted to book a vacation would go to a travel agent. The travel agent would use years of experience and knowledge to help their customers plan an itinerary, find the best prices, and make the most of their vacation. Today, rather than going to a travel agent, most people will read travel blogs, and then book their own airline tickets and hotels using a travel site like Expedia, or book directly through the airlines’ and hotels’ own websites.
Electric, water, telecom and gas utility self-service portals have radically altered the ways that utilities provide customer service. Just a few years ago, customer service for power, water or gas utilities was often expensive and time-consuming. Now, instead of spending time on hold or waiting for the utility provider to open, self-service tools like the SilverBlaze Customer Portal for Utilities have put nearly the entire utility customer experience directly in the hands of the customers.
Not only are utility customers now able to pay their bills online, they can manage everything about their accounts and access a treasure trove of information. Before the advent of self-service portals, utility customers were often in the dark about their usage and what they could do to affect their bills. Now, customers are able to access their usage data to analyze their consumption and can use that data to plan their behavior. This increases customer satisfaction because it gives them the tools they need to take control of their usage (and the size of their bills).
Most importantly, utility customers have access to all of these features at a time that’s convenient for them. They can pay their bills and monitor their usage at their convenience instead of trying to deal with everything during normal business hours when they have many other things they need to do. Giving utility customers the ability to easily handle their issues leads to significant increases in customer satisfaction (67% of utility customers who use self-service portals are happy with their experience compared to 58% of customers who don’t use the online tools).
Self-Service Portals are the Future
With the enormous advantages self-service web portals offer organizations of all kinds, it’s clear that organizations devoted to world-class customer service will rely even more heavily on self-service options in the future. In Part 3 of this Blog Series, we’ll be looking at what organizations can expect to see in the evolution and use of self-service portals over the next several years.